We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Motherboard Heatsink?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At EasyTechJunkie, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A motherboard heatsink is a cooling device used on certain chips found on system boards. The main chip or computer processing unit (CPU) requires a heatsink, and chipsets also use heatsinks. The size and design of these devices varies, as do materials and method of attachment.

When a computer is in use, electrical activity within the CPU and chipset generates considerable heat, which if not dissipated, will damage or even melt the chips, making them inoperable. A motherboard heatsink is secured to the top of a chip, providing an efficient path for heat to escape, first into the heatsink, then from the heatsink into the environment.

A motherboard heatsink is typically made of aluminum alloys or of copper. Aluminum alloys are good thermal conductors, and also have the advantages of being both lightweight and inexpensive. Copper is triple the weight and several times more expensive, but has twice the thermal conductivity of aluminum for even better heat dissipation. (Price-prohibitive diamond has the highest level of thermal conductivity, beating copper by a factor of five.)

In addition to materials, physical design also plays a major part in how well the device dissipates heat. Heatsinks feature rows of fins or pins extending up from the base. These fins or pins provide maximum surface area to dissipate heat while still allowing airflow between the rows to carry that heat away. This cools the surfaces, creating a dynamic path for continued dissipation.

An active heatsink comes with a small fan attached to the top of the fin or pin area, used to cool the surface. A passive heatsink lacks a fan, but is usually designed with a larger surface area. Some passive heatsinks are quite tall, and clearance can be an issue. The advantage of a passive model, however, is lack of noise.

Since the motherboard heatsink is responsible for keeping the chip cool, the chip face and base of the heatsink must be pressed together squarely and very tightly. This is accomplished through a locking mechanism that varies according to design. The heatsink might come with z-clip retainers, a clip-on spring-loaded mechanism, or a swing-down plastic arm to lock the heatsink down on to the CPU or chipset. Some types of attachment methods require the motherboard to have holes or a plastic retaining frame in place.

While the retaining method will press the chip surface against the base of the heatsink, there will still be minute voids between the two surfaces due to irregularities, imperfections and the roughness of the surfaces. Trapped air introduces resistance or gaps in the thermal path, which hampers cooling. To address this, a motherboard heatsink is always used in conjunction with a thermal compound that sits between the two surfaces, filling these gaps. Thermal tape is the least expensive type of compound, but is generally considered the least efficient. Thermal pads and tubed compounds made of various materials from silver to micronized diamonds are more popular among enthusiasts and still quite affordable.

Some chip manufacturers recommend particular types of compounds and heatsinks to use with their CPUs. CPUs that are packaged for retail sale typically come with a heatsink and thermal compound. In some cases, the CPU warranty is voided if the chip is used with a different heatsink or compound.

Heatsinks and compounds are readily available from computer and electronics outlets. Prior to purchasing a motherboard heatsink, be sure the attaching mechanism and footprint are compatible with your motherboard and computer case. Refer to the chip manufacturer for recommendations and warranty information.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Vincenzo — On Nov 30, 2014

@Soulfox -- That is all too true when it comes to computer towers, but things are a bit different in the mobile computing world. Laptop computers, tablets and smartphones are powered by CPUs that must run on low power to be useful at all (battery drain is a real concern for those devices).

You often have a small fan buzzing away inside of laptops, but it is very quiet compared to what goes on inside desktops. There is no fan inside of tablets and smartphones as the power consumption is kept extremely low in those and a typical heatsink will do just fine.

Here's the point of all this. It used to be that computer CPUs generated so little heat that very small heatsinks were more than enough to do the job. CPUs got more sophisticated and heatsinks had to be augmented by fans. Perhaps we are getting to a point where we can go back to small heatsinks being enough to deal with heat generated by a CPU.

By Melonlity — On Nov 30, 2014

@Soulfox -- If you do need silence, there are some alternatives to a big old fan on top of a heatsink. Water cooling system are expensive but those work pretty well. Also, if you have the cash, a diamond encrusted heat sink can get rid of heat in a hurry.

But, as the article mentioned, the diamond option is a pricey one. And that is exactly why you have heat sinks topped with fans. Those are cost effective and should be fine for most people who don't give a hoot about a little bit of noise coming from a computer case.

By Soulfox — On Nov 29, 2014

Good luck finding a passive heatsink installed in any modern computer these days. The faster a CPU is, the more heat it generates and the better the heat dissipation needs to be. That means you will probably have a fan mounted on top of that heatsink and you will have to deal with some noise.

Don't let that get you down so much, though. You can either deal with a little noise or melt your CPU.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.